I took a break from the rigours of Corfu in August for a side trip to Sarande, a coastal resort in Southern Albania. You couldn’t ask for easier access, a jetfoil from Corfu (22 Euros/NZ$40 one-way) which cuts across to Sarande in 30 minutes. You leave at 9am Greek time and get into port in Albania at 8.30am, due to the different time zones.
Albania is not part of the European Union, so you need to flash your passport and go back in time to “foreign currency” (1 Albanian Lek = $0.014 NZD). Once in Sarande, think western beach resort with accommodation, restaurants and bars at Eastern Bloc prices. Throw in the fact that Sarande has 300 sunny days a year and you get the picture of how this place could take off in the future. During my stay, in early August, the day-time temperature hovered around a very pleasant 31-33 degrees Celsius, and overnight, it dropped to a mild 20-21 degrees Celsius.
Sandwiched between the Ionian Sea and hills of olive groves, Sarande is on a horseshoe-shaped bay, edged by beaches and a promenade. The beaches are hardly Mount Maunganui – think 20m of pebbles covered in umbrellas and sun loungers – but the promenade offers spectacular views across the water to Corfu and hosts a plethora of top class, inexpensive seafood restaurants (the less adventurous can still get their fill of pizza and pasta).
In August it was teeming with tourists, particularly Italians on their annual holidays. Sun-seekers from Poland and Russia also seem to make a bee-line for Sarande. A large cruise ship docked in front of Sarande during my stay, probably an indication of things to come in this part of the world. It apparently has a lively nightclub scene, particularly over the summer months. I assumed that the well-dressed Italian women taking “selfies” to check their hair and make-up were out for such a night on the town.
I stayed in a small, family-run hotel which was perfectly fine for my needs. It was about a 15-minute walk from the promenade and at about NZ$50 a night in high season, it was great value.
Shops in town were perfectly acceptable, with Sarande seemingly blessed with an extraordinary supply of hairdressers and dentists. I even had some dental work done, at a top quality clinic, for about NZ$25….that would be at least $250 back home. Likewise, not that I recommend anyone damage their limbs while on holiday, I had an Archilles tendon injury treated by a marvellous physiotherapist in Sarande for about NZD$50.
While the English is passable, particularly on the promenade, Greek is the second language outside Albanian, followed by Italian. I found the locals to be hospitable and genuinely interested in visitors. However, I may have also been of novelty value to them as I’m not sure there were too many other Kiwis limping around the promenade that week.
DAY TRIPS FROM SARANDE
Those craving a “real beach” can head to Ksamil, a truly beautiful stretch of sand which also boasts four islands easily accessible by boat.
Mirror Beach, on the way to Ksamil, is famed for its snorkelling.
The ancient town of Butrint, about 40 minutes by car or bus from Sarande, was once part of the roman Empire and dates back to 800 BC. Including a spectacular amphitheatre, the ruins are on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Many visitors to Sarande also take a day trip to Gjirokaster, another UNESCO-listed site. Many of the rooftops there are covered with stones, giving them a unique appearance.
SYRI I KALTER
This day trip can also include a stop at Syri I Kalter (Blue Eye), a natural source of water with an almost magical blue/green colour (much like the Blue Spring near Putaruru in South Waikato).
Steve's envious route through Doha to Jordan, Beirut and Albania (and more) took just over 4-weeks. To follow suit, you'll also need two very understanding managers, such as Owner Operators, Kate Smyth and Carol Sutton at HOT Matamata, to permit a very generous month-long holiday!